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Tomorrow features two great historic matches between Arsenal/Chelsea in England and Real Madrid/Barcelona in Spain. Both games feature an historic rivalry as well as UEFA Champions League qualification for next year in the case of Arsenal/Chelsea and important "bounce-back" games for Real Madrid/Barca both coming off UEFA Champions League defeats last week with the 2nd legs of those games directly coming up.
For the Arsenal/Chelsea game, I am going to take Chelsea +0.5 -110 as I think the game will end in either a Chelsea win or match tie. For the Real Madrid match, Barca is heavily favored as they should be. They have dominated the recent matches vs Real Madrid and I have been personally on the losing end of a lot of those matches. I am thinking that both teams in this match want to win via a blowout so I will take the over 3 at +110.
Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Barcelona all have champions league matches early this week and history usually shows that teams in these circumstances overlook their previous matches. But I think that these games will be played very seriously as there is a lot on the line. Important note, it looks like Chelsea will be w/o Drogba at least for tomorrow's match. Both games will be on ESPN tomorrow.
John Brewin ESPN
Can a London derby really be a comedown for Chelsea? Victory over Arsenal would confirm one of the best weeks in Chelsea's history, yet still leave work to be done for Roberto Di Matteo, a man in danger of being an even more beloved stopgap Blues boss than Guus Hiddink.
Liverpool await at Wembley on May 5, so too a wounded Barcelona at the Camp Nou, but the game with Arsenal is a vital fixture in the race for Champions League qualification. Of course, Chelsea may not even require it, should they negotiate the small matter of Tuesday night in Catalonia and go on to claim victory in Munich against either Bayern or Real Madrid. All quite simple, surely.
So finishing fourth becomes a safety net for Chelsea, while Arsenal's grip on third is rather looser than was expected a week ago. And while internecine rivalries will have Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United all hoping Chelsea fail to win the Champions League, they have a more practical reason. Should Chelsea win the whole caboodle and finish fifth, any race for fourth is rendered moot, as the Europa League beckons.
Of the two, Arsenal should go into the match feeling fresher, though perhaps only in the physical sense. Beating Barcelona can only lift a mental state as compared to losing at home to Wigan. Arsenal, often painted by their more fanciful fans as a Barcelona-lite, can draw comparisons with their Catalan brethren in that a supposedly inferior team frustrated them, and managed the game away from them.
The comparisons can stop there, though members of both the Barcelona and Arsenal camps offered similar post-match complaints over their opponents' refusal to let them win by opening up. In fact, Wigan opened up Arsenal with ease in the first ten minutes at the Emirates, in the best attacking play of the entire match. While Chelsea scored with their only true attempt on goal, their heroic rearguard efforts against Barcelona merited their wafer-thin lead.
Di Matteo will likely rest some of his midweek marvels. Frank Lampard ran himself into submission to continue his late-season revival act, and though Didier Drogba bought himself plenty of resting time via a bravura display of midweek playacting and lying down, it is officially a knee injury which rules him out of this game. John Terry's fractured ribs, too, may not have taken much of a pummelling - not that he showed much sympathy for a fellow injury victim when grabbing Carles Puyol's wrist - but caution may preclude his involvement.
Arsene Wenger has no need to rest players. He has little else to aim for after a season of disappointment. The greatest achievement will be guiding his squad to a 15th straight Champions League campaign but the Wigan performance exposed the faultlines that a recent recovery have hidden. Until proven otherwise, the belief must remain that Arsenal usually crumble when the pressure is on.
Chelsea, meanwhile, under the leadership of a caretaker coach sacked by West Bromwich Albion just last year, are beginning to prove that they perform best of all when the pressure is on.
Arsenal player to watch: Aaron Ramsey. Mikel Arteta's season is now over after an ankle injury sustained against Wigan, while the end of Jack Wilshere's campaign is confirmed having never actually begun at all. Aaron Ramsey has few competitors for a midfield position but has hardly been in fantastic form. Worryingly, keen observers have noted that a fickle Emirates crowd are on the brink of giving him the Eboue/Arshavin treatment. Must do better, and quickly too.
Chelsea player to watch: Fernando Torres. Two influential performances in four days confirmed that Drogba is still the man for Chelsea's biggest occasions. It only adds to Torres' continuing status as the £50 million bauble without portfolio. Yet an even-handed assessment of Torres would point to the fact that of late he has been playing perhaps his best football in a Chelsea shirt. The workrate has been exemplary, the goal threat is almost returned, but it has not been enough to supplant Drogba in the big games. Tired Ivorian legs may allow him a chance here.
Key battle: Robin Van Persie v Gary Cahill. The double player of the year-elect cut a frustrated figure on Monday, even before Gary Caldwell baited him after the final whistle. The runs were not quite coming off and the shooting was awry. The goals have not been flying as they did throughout the winter. Indeed, that playground penalty against Wolves was the first strike for nearly a month. So after holding off Lionel Messi, this should be no problem at all for Cahill, who put in a tremendous shift against Barcelona. With Terry likely to rest those ribs, this is a chance to prove he is indeed the future.
Trivia: Arsene Wenger first faced Chelsea in the Premier League in April 1997 at Highbury and his team ran out 3-0 winners, with goals from Ian Wright, David Platt and Dennis Bergkamp. Roberto Di Matteo, who had arrived at Chelsea the previous summer, did not feature for the Blues.
Stats: Their last meeting finished 5-3, with a Robin Van Persie hat-trick handing Andre Villas-Boas - remember him? - the first home defeat of his Chelsea tenure. It was not to be his last.
Odds: Arsenal are odds-on at 2.00 at bet365, and Chelsea a rather backable 3.75. The draw is 3.50.
Spain's - perhaps even the world's - biggest domestic club game gets underway on Saturday as Barcelona host Real Madrid in a Clasico that will go a long way to deciding who will walk away with the league title this season.
With Barcelona sitting four points behind their great rivals in second place, a win would close the gap to one and really crank up the pressure on Jose Mourinho's men. Neither have had to worry about qualification for the Champions League for a long time as Barca are 29 points ahead of third-placed Valencia and, having both played in midweek, are also in with a chance of winning Europe's top club competition as well. Despite Real losing 2-1 to Bayern and Barcelona 1-0 at Chelsea, though, the focus for the weekend is firmly back on the league.
Such is the success of both clubs that there were five Clasico games last season - Champions League, league and Copa del Rey - and there would be eight if they both make the Champions League final this year. Barcelona have held the edge, winning 3-1 at the Bernabeu in the league, knocking Real out of the Copa del Rey (4-3 on aggregate) and picking up the Spanish Super Cup (5-4 on aggregate). A grand total of 12-8 to Barcelona across the five games to date.
The Catalans' league form has been phenomenal coming into the important part of the season: 11 wins on the trot. Over Real's last 11 games, they have won eight and drawn three, reducing their lead at the top to only four points. Mourinho's last league defeat was against Barca on December 10.
The usual suspects of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos will be in the spotlight again as their club rivalry threatens to upset the balance of the Spain squad as Euro 2012 approaches. All eyes will be on how these players react to each other - along with the centre-stage battle of Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. If recent history is to be believed, the latest - and most important - Clasico will be a spiky affair, hopefully tinged with a few moments of magic.
Barcelona player to watch: Sergio Busquets. Although not the first name that comes to mind when you think about the free-flowing tiki-taka of Barcelona, Busquets is one of the first names on Pep Guardiola's teamsheet. Providing the shield for the defence, his capturing of possession and short passing provides the platform for Barca's attacking players, while his versatility allows him to switch to centre-back if Guardiola changes his formation to 3-4-3. Like some others, El Clasico seems to bring out the worst in Busquets as he surrounds officials and frequently tries to buy free-kicks.
Real Madrid player to watch: Pepe. One of the world's most expensive defenders, few can argue with the former FC Porto hardman's importance to Real. His aerial ability, coolness on the ball and tough tackling have ensured that his side have conceded just 29 goals from their 33 games, although he has an obvious weak spot when it comes to Barcelona. Being sent off in the Champions League clash last season and stamping on Messi's hand this January has not helped his cause and his playacting has put him in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
Key Battle: Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. Who else could it be but the two best players in the world? Their stats this season are just incredible: Messi's 63 goals against Ronaldo's 57, with the pair tied on a record 41 in La Liga. Voters for the World Player of the Year award are forced to split them, but the pair are so far ahead of everyone else in the game that it is almost laughable and, while they may not admit it openly, there is a heated personal rivalry bubbling under the surface. Messi and Ronaldo are both the focal point of their sides and it is hard to imagine an Clasico without them. There are few better sights in the game than when they get going with the ball at their feet.
Trivia: A yellow card for Cristiano Ronaldo would see him pick up a one-game suspension that would rule him out of a potentially big game against Sevilla.
Stats: If they score, Real Madrid will break their own record of 107 La Liga goals in one season - formerly held by John Toshack's side in 1990. Barca have won 11 games in a row and could equal their own La Liga record of 16 from 2011 if they are victorious in all of their remaining league games.
Odds: Barcelona (1.66), Real Madrid (4.75) and the draw (4.00) are on offer with bet365 while Madrid leading at half-time, Barca full-time win is 19.00.
Prediction: Barcelona have had the better of the game in recent years and home advantage could count even in light of the extra day Madrid have to recover from the Champions League. Both are hurting after their European defeats and will want to prove they are top of the tree.